More unfriendly pregnancy foods: Gravlax

Now that I’m in full pregnancy swing, of course I’m craving all of the foods I’m not supposed to have: sushi, sausages, anything fried, and gooey unpasteurized cheeses.  I’m not sure if they’re cravings really, more like defiant stubbornness. Gravlax sliced

Recently I was inspired (read: the pictures made me salivate) by an article I read about Marcus Samuellson, chef/owner of the chic Manhattan Nordic restaurant, Aquavit.  His recipe for Gravlax (cured salmon) seemed simple enough and I had a beautiful piece of salmon and some fresh dill calling my name in the fridge.  Rather than go with Mr. Samuellson’s recipe, however, I pulled out my trusty behemoth of a cookbook, the CIA’s Professional Chef, which had a nifty Gravlax recipe that seemed more fun (see my adapted recipe below).  Mr. Samuellson’s recipe uses a simple dry cure, but the one in my CIA bible also used a wet component that included some brandy.  Can’t go wrong there.

We Jews love our smoked or cured salmon, which we lovingly call “lox” (after Gravlax presumably).  On a bagel with some schmear, on a chic blini, or by itself, lox is just plain good.  If you don’t have a smoking gun (and I don’t, yet), curing it is your next best bet.

Making the cure was easy.  The tricky part is leaving the darned thing alone in your refrigerator for 2 days while it cures, and then controlling yourself and not eating the entire slab of salmon in one sitting, which would probably give you a salt heart attack.

Once my salmon was cured, scraped, and thinly sliced, I placed it on top of mini Melba toast squares (thank you Trader Joe’s) with some creme fraiche and chives.  Simple appetizer, tasty snack, and sublimely irresistible to this pregnant lady.  Plus it’s the perfect Sunday brunch food.

Like I said before, don’t judge.  I’m a self-admitted foodaholic.  (Incidentally, the salmon I chose was fresh as could be and I’m ServSafe certified so I wasn’t worried about endangering my kidney bean with icky bacteria).  Well worth the little cheat.

Try it.  If you’re not pregnant you have nothing to feel guilty about.

Gravlax on toast

Gravlax: Cured Salmon

Serves 6
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 48 hours
Total time 48 hours, 20 minutes
Meal type Appetizer, Breakfast

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb Salmon (Fresh, high quality)
  • 3 oz Kosher salt
  • 1/3 oz Cracked white peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 oz Dill (Finely chopped)
  • 8 oz Brown sugar
  • 1 oz Lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz Olive oil
  • 1/2 oz Brandy

Note

Adapted from The Professional Chef, 8th Edition (the Culinary Institute of America's cookbook).  You can also find Marcus Samuelsson's simpler gravlax recipe here.

Because this salmon will be cured but not cooked, it's important to use fresh, high quality salmon from a reputable market.

Directions

1.
Combine the dry ingredients (sugar, salt, pepper, dill that's been finely chopped) and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (lemon juice, oil, brandy).
2.
Place salmon on a piece of cheesecloth and brush the wet mixture on both sides.
3.
Pack the dry cure evenly on both sides of the salmon and wrap it tighty in the cheesecloth.
4.
Place the wrapped salmon in a pan or dish, with another pan or dish on top and weigh it down. Put the assembly in the refrigerator and let it cure for 2-3 days (minimum 48 hours).
5.
After 2 days, it will look like this.
6.
Unwrap the salmon and scrape off the cure.
7.
Slice salmon as thinly as possible (with a long sharp knife) on the bias and serve.
8. The cured salmon will keep in the refrigerator, covered with plastic, for 6 days. You can also freeze it.

Not for the home cook but still cool: Volt Ink

Top Chef Season 6 was by far the best season as nearly every contestant was a bad ass cook and way fun to watch in the kitchen.

About 2 weeks before the season finale aired, I had the pleasure of dining at a private dinner party for 12 people at the Dining Room at the Langham Hotel where Michael Voltaggio was at the helm, biding his time until he could tell the world that he had won the title of Top Chef.  He cooked a 7-course meal for us.  I remember his food was unique, beautiful, and a little bit crazy, though not always spot on “delicious.”  This was a while ago but one dish that stood out was his deconstructed PB&J, with a savory cake that oozed purple jelly just when you cut into it.  Each plate was more beautiful than the next, and the ingredients were carefully paired in ways I had never experienced before.  There was absolutely no mistaking that this guy was the real deal.

After the dinner we went into the kitchen to meet the man himself for an “eat and greet.”  Though Voltaggio was of course bound to secrecy on his Top Chef experience, he did say that he had a good time on the show but that it mischaracterized him as a little bit of a bully.  He was gracious but exactly like he appears on TV, intense and buzzing with energy.  He showed us how he prepared the vacuum packed meats for sous vide, his favorite technique, at the end of each night for the next night’s service.

Voltaggio left the Langham shortly after that dinner to begin working on his new restaurant, Ink, which currently has a 30 day wait to even get a reservation.  I plan to dine there when I can get in, but in the meantime I picked up his new cookbook co-written with his brother, Volt Ink.

The cookbook showcases the brothers’ unique approach to family and food. Foods utilized in the recipes are grouped together by their families (eg. from avian to the night shade family), and then each brother contributes a recipe showcasing these ingredient families. Both brothers show off their crazy skills by marrying classic with modern techniques. You’ll find most of the recipes calling for expensive restaurant equipment like an immersion circulator, nitrogen tank, and smoking gun. They attempt to offer alternative instructions on these techniques for the home cook, but I doubt I’ll be purchasing a pig’s head any time soon so that I can brine it in a plastic bag in my cooler for 10 days, just to pick through the cheeks and jowls to obtain the small amount of meat garnered and then pressed for Bryan’s “head cheese with sunchoke relish” recipe.

Highlights for me included Bryan’s “mock oyster” dish as well as Michael’s pork belly ramen with squid noodles.

Most of the techniques in this book are impractical and nearly impossible to recreate at home and only work in a restaurant setting, because each dish requires multiple elements, and each element often takes a day or two to create.  In a commercial kitchen you can whip up large batches of elements used for a complicated dish and then store them and use them throughout the week.  (Make no mistake, that blood orange charcoal or tarragon gelee that garnished your plate in the fancy restaurant you ate at last night was not made to order just for you.  It was made days ago and stored in a deli cup so that it can be artfully plated by the line cook on a busy Friday night.)

But this cookbook was not intended to teach the home cook.  The recipes are carefully constructed road maps to create art on a plate, albeit art that would fall flat as “too derivative” if duplicated by another.  Rather it offers a window into the brains of two very inventive chefs on the forefront of the evolution of new American cuisine.  And on that note it succeeds.

 

 *Photos by Ed Anderson via Cool Hunting

 

 

 

Mario Knows: Braised Short Ribs

I adore short ribs.  Hearty, meaty, thick sauce, and full of flavor: short ribs = comfort food = happy belly.  I make it a point to order short ribs on every menu they grace.  When I make them at home, I turn to the expert, Molto Mario, because Mario knows how to braise* some good meat.  You don’t have to run out and buy the cookbook though (unless you like Mario as much as I do, in which case, run you must) because his short ribs recipe is right here. (Sigh.  I love buying cookbooks, but they’re just a novelty these days because you can find any recipe online.  I even have a laptop in my kitchen just to find recipes and follow along while I’m cooking, making cookbooks almost obsolete. Except I buy them anyway because I like the look of them on my shelf and the pictures are pretty).

short-ribs-1-of-3

The key to a good braise: sear the short ribs first (bone-in or boneless both work fine), and take your time doing so.  You want a brown crust on all sides.  Because braising in simmering liquid doesn’t get the meat hot enough by itself, you want to sear the meat in hot oil first to develop complex flavors.  [Pop quiz time: do you remember what that brown crust is called when you sear meat?  Answer below #]  I sear the meat in my dutch oven (which is a thick cast iron pot in culinary world. It means something entirely different you’re lying in bed with indigestion, gross).  Mario finishes his braise in the oven, but you can easily finish it on the stove top in the dutch oven, which is what I did here.

short-ribs-2-of-3

Also, Mario can afford to use barolo wine to braise his short ribs.  He’s a restaurant mogul.  Barolo is expensive and I’d rather drink expensive wine than cook with it, so I used a cheap cabernet from Trader Joes.  I also crisped up some pancetta in the pan before adding my wine and sauce to give it some porky goodness.  And if you don’t want to go through the trouble of adding all those veggies and tomatoes to your sauce, you can just add a jar of good marinara sauce.    I won’t tell Mario you cheated. 

I served these short ribs over parsnip puree (parsnip puree recipe here) with a side of sauteed brussel sprouts.  If you aren’t tasting closely you might mistake parsnip puree for mashed potatoes, with a slight carrot taste.   Parsnips give you the creaminess of mashed potatoes, but they are less caloric and higher in fiber so you might call them health food, except the puree requires that you add my new best friends, cream and butter.  Let’s just call it a draw.  short-ribs-3-of-3

The braising liquid starts out pretty thin.  After a couple of hours and by the time your meat is fork tender the liquid is nice and thick.  If it’s not, you can reduce it down further.  Skim off the fat and pour that thick sauce over the ribs.  In fact, I poured so much sauce over my ribs that you can’t even see the meat.  Trust me– it’s there.  That’s the good stuff.

I served this with Four Sons Cabernet Sauvignon from Baldacci Vineyards, right there in Stags Leap District of Napa Valley.  Stags Leap is where you go to find the best California Cabs.  Lots of dark ripe fruits and coffee flavors, and a full mouth feel.  Perfect pairing for a  rich hearty meat.  Not even Mario can argue with that.

* Fun fact: braise is one of the 7 classical french techniques.  Braise means to cook in liquid and is generally used for tough cuts of meat that require lots of cooking time.  Are you getting the new theme here?
# Answer: Maillard reaction (no, not caramelization). Congratulations, you’re paying attention!

November treat: Pumpkin donut muffins

I’m absolutely addicted to receiving things in the mail.  Normally I’m a creature of instant gratification, but I do 90% of my shopping online because I actually enjoy waiting for the packages to arrive.  Once I place the order I forget about it, and then when my package arrives it’s just like receiving a present from a secret admirer, except of course it’s a gift from me to me.  I treat myself well. :-) 

Once a month I also receive a special treat from Martha Stewart: Everyday Food Magazine.  I’ve been subscribing to this magazine for 4 years now.  Each month when I see it in my mailbox I dance a little jig, run into the house, and read it cover to cover.  The recipes cater to my particular cooking style: simple, seasonal, and scrumptious (how do you like that for alliteration?).  I especially look forward to the November Thanksgiving issue because it offers new takes on Thanksgiving favorites.  Whenever I host our family’s Thanksgiving extravaganza, I always consult all of my old November Everyday Food magazines before planning my menu.

This month’s issue did not fail to inspire.  It featured a bunch of new pumpkin dessert recipes, including pumpkin bread pudding and pumpkin donut muffins.  I decided to reward myself for all this hard work caring for a newborn baby by baking the pumpkin muffins.  The pumpkin puree gave the muffins a nice color, and they turned out moist and delicious.  I slightly underbaked them to give them a little more of a doughy texture. I especially liked that they were finished by rolling each muffin in spiced cinnamon and sugar (and I added ground clove as well).   

I baked plenty of these fall goodies and took the extras over to my brother’s house for a Halloween treat for the family. 

pumpkin-muffins-5-of-5_0

A Tale of Two Birthday Cakes: Red Velvet and Carrot

I’ve been on a baking kick lately.  Unfortunately, baking anything beyond Tollhouse cookies requires most of the day for grocery shopping, set up, actual baking time, decorating, and clean up, so it’s a fairly big investment for a busy working girl like me.  But for special occasions I find the time.  This year my father requested a red velvet cake for his birthday and my brother requested carrot cake for his own birthday celebration (aren’t they demanding?!?).  I turned to baking guru and fellow blogger Bakerella for a trusted red velvet cake recipe, and to Rose Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible and Rose’s Heavenly Cakes for my carrot cake recipe.  (My mother in law gave me Divine Ms. Beranbaum’s cookbook for my birthday this year and I was excited to try out my first recipe.)  cakes-4-of-10 Both the red velvet and carrot cakes are considered “oil cakes” (because they use oil as the fat source, making them nice and moist) and were fairly easy to bake.  The tricky part is trying to get them to rise evenly so you can stack the layers and have an even coat of frosting.  cakes-3-of-10

Red velvet, if you haven’t yet experienced it, is heavenly.  What makes red velvet so special? Buttermilk, quality cocoa powder, vinegar (yes truly), and an obscene amount of red food coloring.  The buttermilk and vinegar add a tanginess to the chocolatey cake batter.  I adore baking red velvet treats, even if after eating them my tongue is stained bright red.  Cream cheese frosting is the perfect accompaniment to red velvet cake.  I decorated my cake with a few strawberries and some shredded dried coconut for a little extra flair.  Birthday boy happily blew out his candles and then we sliced into this decadent beast with wild abandon.  cakes-1-of-10 [Read more…]

Flavor Bible Unleashed: Sea Bass with Apple Fennel Saute and White Bean Puree

flavor-bible The “cookbook” I find myself turning to most often is not a cookbook at all, but reads more like a primer on flavor affinities.  The Flavor Bible doesn’t include recipes per se, but instead instructs on what foods go together.  I consult The Flavor Bible when I have a few items picked up from the store, but I’m fishing for ideas on how to jazz them up.  Tonight, for example, I had some Chilean Sea Bass marinating in misoyaki sauce (recipe for misoyaki fish, below), and wanted to cook fennel and white beans for sides.  I consulted my trusty Flavor Bible, dinner-4-of-7 and discovered that white beans pair well with olive oil, rosemary, and even pecorino.  Having all of those ingredients on hand, I decided a puree would be lovely (plus I adore my stick blender, it gives off such a gratifying buzzing sensation when it mashes food)!  So I heated up white beans with a little chicken broth, olive oil, and chopped rosemary, then pureed with my stick blender and returned to the stove. I seasoned and added the pecorino and stirred until creamy.
Recipe for White Bean Puree

A quick turn of the page and I learned that fennel goes well with apples. I had an apple handy so apple fennel saute was what I made.  Chopped the fennel and apple and sauteed together until soft, then added nigella (black sesame seeds), red grapes, and fennel greens for color, plus a smidge of cider vinegar for a little zing, because fennel usually needs some acid.
Recipe for Appel Fennel Saute

In under 25 minutes I had dinner on the table and a happy hubby.  Big N paired our meal with a sauvignon blanc that we brought back from Marlborough, New Zealand this March.  If you think most Sauvignon Blancs wreak of cat pee, you haven’t had one from New Zealand.  The River Farm Sauvignon Blanc is typical for the region, with notes of white peach and a little grass, and crisp but smooth tropical citrus fruits on the palette.  It paired perfectly with the slight acidity of the fennel and the richness of the fish.  While sipping the wine, Big N and I reminisced about our adventures in New Zealand biking from one winery to the next and filling up our baskets to the brim with Pinots and Sauvignon Blancs.  Next time you’re eating white fish, or something spicy or acidic, try a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.  They’re great value wines and there’s no need to have a corkscrew with you- nearly all of them have screw tops for added convenience.

Misoyaki Fish

Serves 2-4
Prep time 48 hours
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 48 hours, 20 minutes
Meal type Main Dish
Region Japanese

Ingredients

  • 2-4 Filets of fish (Chilean sea bass, black cod, butterfish work best)
  • 1/2 cup Sake
  • 1/2 cup Mirin (cooking wine, find it in asian food aisle)
  • 1/3 cup Miso paste (in asian markets, light color works best)
  • 3 tablespoons Sugar
  • 2-4 Filets of fish (Chilean sea bass, black cod, butterfish work best)
  • 1/2 cup Sake
  • 1/2 cup Mirin (cooking wine, find it in asian food aisle)
  • 1/3 cup Miso paste (in asian markets, light color works best)
  • 3 tablespoons Sugar

Note

Inspired by Chef Nobu's famous misoyaki black cod and Roy's Miso Butterfish recipes

Directions

1. Heat sake, Mirin, miso paste, and sugar. Whisk to dissolve miso paste and sugar, bring to just boiling, and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. Let cool completely.
2. Heat sake, Mirin, miso paste, and sugar. Whisk to dissolve miso paste and sugar, bring to just boiling, and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. Let cool completely.
3. Throw cooled sauce in ziploc bag and add your fish. Suck the air out of the bag and place in a bowl in the refrigerator. Let the fish marinate for 2-3 days, turning the bag over in the fridge each morning or evening to make sure the fish is being evenly coated.
4. Throw cooled sauce in ziploc bag and add your fish. Suck the air out of the bag and place in a bowl in the refrigerator. Let the fish marinate for 2-3 days, turning the bag over in the fridge each morning or evening to make sure the fish is being evenly coated.
5. Preheat oven to 400. Place fish in baking dish, uncovered, and discard rest of marinade.
6. Preheat oven to 400. Place fish in baking dish, uncovered, and discard rest of marinade.
7. Bake for 10-20 minutes depending on thickness of fish. Insert toothpick to test, toothpick should go in easily if done. Do not overcook fish, you want it slightly translucent in the middle.
8. Bake for 10-20 minutes depending on thickness of fish. Insert toothpick to test, toothpick should go in easily if done. Do not overcook fish, you want it slightly translucent in the middle.